Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 14, 2009

Bullies R’ Us

The Obama administration’s bullies-first foreign policy is chipping away at all that international adoration for the president who was supposed to restore America’s global standing.

Our democratic friends in Eastern Europe are speaking up:

“Now we see the beginning of indifference,” said Tudo Salajean, a Romanian historian and researcher.

At times, and from some corners, the new mood can even border on hostile. Obama’s approaches to pressing world problems “aren’t worth a moldy onion,” declared Mircea Mihaies, deputy head of the Romanian Cultural Institute.

The metaphor has heartbreaking significance. When generations of your population have known state-imposed hunger, rotten foodstuffs can conjure up palpable misery. It was principled American policy that helped free Eastern Europeans from Soviet oppression, and it’s cowardly American policy that’s now scaring the daylights out of our allies.

Czech and Polish leaders bristle at America’s new ambivalence over a Bush administration plan to base a missile defense shield in the two ex-communist countries. The system, which would put ten interceptor rockets in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, had been touted as a strategic way to counter a threat from Iran.

But recently, senior U.S. Defense Department officials said they’re considering other options. The Czech-Polish plan had infuriated Russia, and the Obama administration has been working to improve relations with the Kremlin.

Not just “improve,” and not just the Kremlin. The administration is looking simply to please bullies around the world, whatever the cost to our allies or ideals: in Eastern Europe, we side with an expansionist Kremlin over our democratic friends; in Israel, we add our voice to the lunatic chorus that sees settlement growth as the most pressing issue in the region; in Honduras, we support the bullying Manuel Zelaya in his effort to subvert democracy; in Iran, we flatter murderous theocrats with offers of respect while voters brave batons and bullets in order to be heard.

Not sure moldy onions can make you cry enough for the metaphor to work.

The Obama administration’s bullies-first foreign policy is chipping away at all that international adoration for the president who was supposed to restore America’s global standing.

Our democratic friends in Eastern Europe are speaking up:

“Now we see the beginning of indifference,” said Tudo Salajean, a Romanian historian and researcher.

At times, and from some corners, the new mood can even border on hostile. Obama’s approaches to pressing world problems “aren’t worth a moldy onion,” declared Mircea Mihaies, deputy head of the Romanian Cultural Institute.

The metaphor has heartbreaking significance. When generations of your population have known state-imposed hunger, rotten foodstuffs can conjure up palpable misery. It was principled American policy that helped free Eastern Europeans from Soviet oppression, and it’s cowardly American policy that’s now scaring the daylights out of our allies.

Czech and Polish leaders bristle at America’s new ambivalence over a Bush administration plan to base a missile defense shield in the two ex-communist countries. The system, which would put ten interceptor rockets in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, had been touted as a strategic way to counter a threat from Iran.

But recently, senior U.S. Defense Department officials said they’re considering other options. The Czech-Polish plan had infuriated Russia, and the Obama administration has been working to improve relations with the Kremlin.

Not just “improve,” and not just the Kremlin. The administration is looking simply to please bullies around the world, whatever the cost to our allies or ideals: in Eastern Europe, we side with an expansionist Kremlin over our democratic friends; in Israel, we add our voice to the lunatic chorus that sees settlement growth as the most pressing issue in the region; in Honduras, we support the bullying Manuel Zelaya in his effort to subvert democracy; in Iran, we flatter murderous theocrats with offers of respect while voters brave batons and bullets in order to be heard.

Not sure moldy onions can make you cry enough for the metaphor to work.

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Re: He Refuses to Take Us Seriously!

Bob McDonnell received the endorsement of the NRA in the Virginia gubernatorial race. Creigh Deeds has boasted of his own pro–Second Amendment credentials, and in the match off between the same candidates for attorney general four years ago, Deeds got the NRA nod. In Virginia, the NRA has approximately 120,000 members.

I await the Washington Post headline: “NRA Provides McDonnell with Needed Distraction from Thesis Flap.”

Bob McDonnell received the endorsement of the NRA in the Virginia gubernatorial race. Creigh Deeds has boasted of his own pro–Second Amendment credentials, and in the match off between the same candidates for attorney general four years ago, Deeds got the NRA nod. In Virginia, the NRA has approximately 120,000 members.

I await the Washington Post headline: “NRA Provides McDonnell with Needed Distraction from Thesis Flap.”

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Maureen Dowd on Republican “Racism”

Back in January, I wrote about four safe bets about Obama, one of which was this:

While Obama is riding high, race relations will be excellent. But once Obama goes down in the polls and he does things that elicit criticism, be prepared for the “race card” to be played. If it is, then race relations could be set back, because the charges will be so transparently false. If race was used by Obamacons against Bill Clinton, it will certainly be used against Republicans.

Now along comes Maureen Dowd, that profound social critic for the New York Times, who asserts that, yes, racism explains Republican opposition to President Obama. In her words:

[Representative Joe] Wilson ’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president—no Democrat ever shouted “liar” at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq—convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.

Perhaps the Times will allow Maureen to hire a person who can use LexisNexis. If it does, she will find that Democrats with a whole lot more influence and prestige than Joe Wilson accused President Bush of being a liar—from Majority Leader Harry Reid to Ted Kennedy, who, we were repeatedly told a few weeks ago, was one of the most influential senators in American history. Yet there was not a peep of outrage from Maureen or her fellow columnists at the Times—or, to my knowledge, virtually any journalist anywhere. They appeared to think what Reid and Kennedy said was all fine and good. Boys will be boys, politics ain’t beanbags, it’s a contact sport, and all that. And by the way, the vitriolic attacks on Bush were used as evidence that—you guessed it—Bush was a divisive president.

I have written on why I believe that what Wilson said was wrong and troubling and that he was right to apologize to President Obama. But the feigned fury on the Left is hard to take seriously. And the charges of racism we are now seeing are evidence of a movement that is getting a bit desperate and more than a bit angry. The trouble is that throwing around the term racism with such promiscuity dilutes the charge and makes it less potent when it is really needed. It is yet one more example of the harmful effects of contemporary liberalism.

Back in January, I wrote about four safe bets about Obama, one of which was this:

While Obama is riding high, race relations will be excellent. But once Obama goes down in the polls and he does things that elicit criticism, be prepared for the “race card” to be played. If it is, then race relations could be set back, because the charges will be so transparently false. If race was used by Obamacons against Bill Clinton, it will certainly be used against Republicans.

Now along comes Maureen Dowd, that profound social critic for the New York Times, who asserts that, yes, racism explains Republican opposition to President Obama. In her words:

[Representative Joe] Wilson ’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president—no Democrat ever shouted “liar” at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq—convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.

Perhaps the Times will allow Maureen to hire a person who can use LexisNexis. If it does, she will find that Democrats with a whole lot more influence and prestige than Joe Wilson accused President Bush of being a liar—from Majority Leader Harry Reid to Ted Kennedy, who, we were repeatedly told a few weeks ago, was one of the most influential senators in American history. Yet there was not a peep of outrage from Maureen or her fellow columnists at the Times—or, to my knowledge, virtually any journalist anywhere. They appeared to think what Reid and Kennedy said was all fine and good. Boys will be boys, politics ain’t beanbags, it’s a contact sport, and all that. And by the way, the vitriolic attacks on Bush were used as evidence that—you guessed it—Bush was a divisive president.

I have written on why I believe that what Wilson said was wrong and troubling and that he was right to apologize to President Obama. But the feigned fury on the Left is hard to take seriously. And the charges of racism we are now seeing are evidence of a movement that is getting a bit desperate and more than a bit angry. The trouble is that throwing around the term racism with such promiscuity dilutes the charge and makes it less potent when it is really needed. It is yet one more example of the harmful effects of contemporary liberalism.

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More on Sam Tanenhaus and the Death of Conservatism

In his short and shallow book The Death of Conservatism, Sam Tanenhaus writes this:

As if by atavistic reflex, conservative opponents of Barack Obama have applied the epithet “socialism” to his ambitious plans. … After Obama’s first address to a joint session of Congress, in February 2009, Charles Krauthammer warned, in his Washington Post column, that Obama is exploiting “the current crisis … to move the still (relatively) modest American welfare state toward European-style social democracy.” And Newt Gingrich warned that Obama’s budget amounted to “European socialism transplanted to Washington.”

The politics of consensus would have required Krauthammer and Gingrich to acknowledge an inescapable fact: the public favored Obama’s proposals. But the politics of orthodoxy imposes no such obligation. “Right reason” makes no allowances for public opinion, because the public is so often wrong. Yet this approach is radically at odds with how democracy really works, with its intricately managed modus vivendi. “Public opinion is a permeating influence, and it exacts obedience to itself,” Walter Bagehot wrote in “The Character of Sir Robert Peel,” his classic essay on statesmanship, published in 1856. “Those who desire a public career must look to the views of the living public. … You cannot, may people wish you could, go into parliament to represent yourself. You must conform to the opinions of the electors.”

Where to begin? Perhaps first by pointing out that what Krauthammer and Gingrich said is quite right and that Tanenhaus nowhere in his book makes a persuasive argument as to why they are wrong. Indeed, the prescience of Krauthammer’s warning is clearer than ever.

Second, we have now had an entire summer of public debate on ObamaCare, and the verdict is in: the public, by fairly wide margins, doesn’t like it and doesn’t want it. According to an ABC analysis of the latest polling data, “Perhaps worst for the president, in interviews following his nationally televised address to a joint session of Congress, Americans by 54-41 percent say that the more they hear about health care reform, the less they like it.” In the words of the highly respected economic columnist Robert Samuelson, Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress last week was driven by a political problem: “Support for [health care] ‘reform’ was collapsing.”

With that in mind, will Mr. Tanenhaus—that great champion of conforming to the opinions of the electors—now publicly reverse himself and state, in no uncertain terms, that supporting ObamaCare would be “radically at odds with how democracy really works” and must therefore be opposed? I rather doubt he will. And if he won’t, let me offer a reason: Tanenhaus is precisely what he condemns in his book—an ideologue, a man of dogmatic fixity, a person of knee-jerk liberal reflexes.

Third, Edmund Burke, whom Tanenhaus praises in his book as a means to criticize modern-day conservatives, held quite a different view from the one expressed by Tanenhaus on the “exacting obedience” that public opinion should have on public figures. In the words of Burke, in his speech to the Electors of Bristol:

To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience,—these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.

Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament. If the local constituent should have an interest, or should form an hasty opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the community, the member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it effect. I beg pardon for saying so much on this subject. I have been unwillingly drawn into it; but I shall ever use a respectful frankness of communication with you.

Tanenhaus’s understanding of Burke is as shallow as his understanding of conservatism itself; and Burke, it appears, is merely a convenient club with which to try to beat up conservatives Tanenhaus disagrees with (which is to say, almost every conservative in America ). All of which supports my second point—that Tanenhaus is himself of ideologue.

The idea that Sam Tanenhaus is interested in defining “authentic conservatism,” or even equipped for such a task, is risible. As if to support this observation, Tanenhaus’s book includes an endorsement by that great modern scholar of political theory and conservative thought: Chris Matthews of MSNBC.

Enough said.

In his short and shallow book The Death of Conservatism, Sam Tanenhaus writes this:

As if by atavistic reflex, conservative opponents of Barack Obama have applied the epithet “socialism” to his ambitious plans. … After Obama’s first address to a joint session of Congress, in February 2009, Charles Krauthammer warned, in his Washington Post column, that Obama is exploiting “the current crisis … to move the still (relatively) modest American welfare state toward European-style social democracy.” And Newt Gingrich warned that Obama’s budget amounted to “European socialism transplanted to Washington.”

The politics of consensus would have required Krauthammer and Gingrich to acknowledge an inescapable fact: the public favored Obama’s proposals. But the politics of orthodoxy imposes no such obligation. “Right reason” makes no allowances for public opinion, because the public is so often wrong. Yet this approach is radically at odds with how democracy really works, with its intricately managed modus vivendi. “Public opinion is a permeating influence, and it exacts obedience to itself,” Walter Bagehot wrote in “The Character of Sir Robert Peel,” his classic essay on statesmanship, published in 1856. “Those who desire a public career must look to the views of the living public. … You cannot, may people wish you could, go into parliament to represent yourself. You must conform to the opinions of the electors.”

Where to begin? Perhaps first by pointing out that what Krauthammer and Gingrich said is quite right and that Tanenhaus nowhere in his book makes a persuasive argument as to why they are wrong. Indeed, the prescience of Krauthammer’s warning is clearer than ever.

Second, we have now had an entire summer of public debate on ObamaCare, and the verdict is in: the public, by fairly wide margins, doesn’t like it and doesn’t want it. According to an ABC analysis of the latest polling data, “Perhaps worst for the president, in interviews following his nationally televised address to a joint session of Congress, Americans by 54-41 percent say that the more they hear about health care reform, the less they like it.” In the words of the highly respected economic columnist Robert Samuelson, Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress last week was driven by a political problem: “Support for [health care] ‘reform’ was collapsing.”

With that in mind, will Mr. Tanenhaus—that great champion of conforming to the opinions of the electors—now publicly reverse himself and state, in no uncertain terms, that supporting ObamaCare would be “radically at odds with how democracy really works” and must therefore be opposed? I rather doubt he will. And if he won’t, let me offer a reason: Tanenhaus is precisely what he condemns in his book—an ideologue, a man of dogmatic fixity, a person of knee-jerk liberal reflexes.

Third, Edmund Burke, whom Tanenhaus praises in his book as a means to criticize modern-day conservatives, held quite a different view from the one expressed by Tanenhaus on the “exacting obedience” that public opinion should have on public figures. In the words of Burke, in his speech to the Electors of Bristol:

To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience,—these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.

Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament. If the local constituent should have an interest, or should form an hasty opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the community, the member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it effect. I beg pardon for saying so much on this subject. I have been unwillingly drawn into it; but I shall ever use a respectful frankness of communication with you.

Tanenhaus’s understanding of Burke is as shallow as his understanding of conservatism itself; and Burke, it appears, is merely a convenient club with which to try to beat up conservatives Tanenhaus disagrees with (which is to say, almost every conservative in America ). All of which supports my second point—that Tanenhaus is himself of ideologue.

The idea that Sam Tanenhaus is interested in defining “authentic conservatism,” or even equipped for such a task, is risible. As if to support this observation, Tanenhaus’s book includes an endorsement by that great modern scholar of political theory and conservative thought: Chris Matthews of MSNBC.

Enough said.

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Which Message?

One reason voters aren’t swayed by the president’s rhetoric is that it keeps shifting. A Capitol Hill staffer points out that this is what the president said last Wednesday on whether we could keep our insurance under ObamaCare:

Here are the details that every American needs to know about this plan.  First, if you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, or Medicare, or Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have.  (Applause.)  Let me repeat this:  Nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.

That was itself a change from his previous “guarantee” that we could keep existing coverage. Then on Saturday he seemed to veer back to a more ironclad promise:

Now, I’ve also said that one of the options in the insurance exchange, one of the options — most of the folks who are going to be offering insurance through the exchange are going to be private insurers — Blue Cross Blue Shield, Aetna, all these. Well, I think one of the options should be a public insurance option. (Applause.) Now let me be clear. Let me be clear. Let me be clear: It would only be an option. Nobody would be forced to choose it. No one with insurance would be affected by it. But what it would do is, it would provide more choice and more competition. (Applause.) It would keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable, to treat their customers better.

But really, how can it be that we won’t be affected by a public option? First, according to its own terms, ObamaCare seeks a public option because it will do something. The administration thinks it will improve competition. Conservatives and outside analysts, however, think it will result in a massive dumping of consumers out of private plans. But unless Obama is going to the mat for something with no impact on consumers, it is going to have an impact. The only debate is how extreme.

One wonders why the president and his spinners are trying to play it so cute, especially when he’s trying to convince people he’s the most credible voice on health-care reform. Maybe the president’s speechwriters are sloppy or maybe they don’t understand that his words have real meaning to those carefully following the debate. But if they want us to believe what the president says, he should stop saying different things to different audiences.

One reason voters aren’t swayed by the president’s rhetoric is that it keeps shifting. A Capitol Hill staffer points out that this is what the president said last Wednesday on whether we could keep our insurance under ObamaCare:

Here are the details that every American needs to know about this plan.  First, if you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, or Medicare, or Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have.  (Applause.)  Let me repeat this:  Nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.

That was itself a change from his previous “guarantee” that we could keep existing coverage. Then on Saturday he seemed to veer back to a more ironclad promise:

Now, I’ve also said that one of the options in the insurance exchange, one of the options — most of the folks who are going to be offering insurance through the exchange are going to be private insurers — Blue Cross Blue Shield, Aetna, all these. Well, I think one of the options should be a public insurance option. (Applause.) Now let me be clear. Let me be clear. Let me be clear: It would only be an option. Nobody would be forced to choose it. No one with insurance would be affected by it. But what it would do is, it would provide more choice and more competition. (Applause.) It would keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable, to treat their customers better.

But really, how can it be that we won’t be affected by a public option? First, according to its own terms, ObamaCare seeks a public option because it will do something. The administration thinks it will improve competition. Conservatives and outside analysts, however, think it will result in a massive dumping of consumers out of private plans. But unless Obama is going to the mat for something with no impact on consumers, it is going to have an impact. The only debate is how extreme.

One wonders why the president and his spinners are trying to play it so cute, especially when he’s trying to convince people he’s the most credible voice on health-care reform. Maybe the president’s speechwriters are sloppy or maybe they don’t understand that his words have real meaning to those carefully following the debate. But if they want us to believe what the president says, he should stop saying different things to different audiences.

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Libya: Geography and Courtship

Regional relations with Libya look different from London or Paris as opposed to from Washington, D.C. As U.S. politicians and pundits decry Britain’s release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Maset al-Megrahi, British and other European leaders eye the relentless courtship of Libya by Russia and Russia’s clients, and forge ahead with courtships of their own. Libya is not in America’s backyard, but it is in Europe’s, and its long Mediterranean coastline has for centuries made it prime real estate in the East-West struggle for security and empire. The mantle of American security guarantees interrupted that history in the Cold War and its aftermath. Faced, however, with the bore-sighted priorities of the Bush administration’s war on terror, and with the selective “soft power” focus emerging from the Obama administration, our European allies are, with increasing urgency, making their own deals and operating from their own strategies.

Russia’s use of natural gas for political extortion and its strong-arm tactics with Georgia and Ukraine have the EU scrambling for reliable non-Russian energy sources. Europe, unlike North America, is not in a position to choose oil and gas self-sufficiency at its political discretion. Equally important is Moscow’s geo-strategic targeting of Libya in the past few years, which for Europeans evokes memories not only of Soviet naval bases in the Cold War but of centuries of maritime vulnerability to Libyan pirates and brigands under unfriendly Ottoman rule as well. A vulnerability of this sort is only amplified today by modern technology.

Russia and Libya have concluded agreements for warship sales and armored-tank refurbishment in the past year, along with a civil nuclear-power deal and a major energy deal in which British Petroleum’s Russian affiliate competes directly with BP-UK and Qaddafi becomes a benefactor in the electrification of much of northern Africa. The Russian naval task force that went to Venezuela last fall stopped in Tripoli for a port visit at the same time that Russia’s first frigate dispatched for the antipiracy effort off Somalia stopped in Libya for replenishment—both events the first of their kind since 1991. These port visits were followed by Libya’s avowal of its willingness to resume hosting the Russian navy as it did during the Cold War. Two weeks ago Hugo Chavez, headed for Russia, was Qaddafi’s special guest at a commemoration of the latter’s 40th anniversary as Libya’s revolutionary leader.

Britain, France, and Italy have been waging strategic diplomacy with arms deals, energy deals, and friendship agreements of their own. France concluded a major arms and nuclear-energy agreement with Libya in 2007. This weekend’s “revelation” that British Special Forces are training Libyan troops is no surprise to those who remember the 2007 military-cooperation agreement made under Tony Blair, in which such services were promised. Italy and Libya signed a friendship treaty this summer that has already produced joint naval patrols combating illegal immigration and smuggling. All three nations have staked out positions heavily committed to Libya’s oil and gas industry. European initiative was behind the first-ever inclusion of Libya in a recent NATO naval exercise. The EU’s major powers have no intention of seeing Russia acquire exclusive privileges in Libya if they can help it. Their security depends too much on outside energy sources and a friendly, quiescent Mediterranean Sea.

Geography and natural resources are stern taskmasters. It is only when a dominant global power guarantees regional security that nations have the leisure to act diplomatically on other priorities. Britain’s self-interest in releasing the Lockerbie bomber is a hairline crack portending a fissure that will only enlarge as the U.S. retreats from guaranteeing Europe against Russian bases around its southern perimeter and of Russian control of Europe’s access to fossil fuels. If we cared to understand what is happening with our European allies, we could not do better than to start with this reality.

Regional relations with Libya look different from London or Paris as opposed to from Washington, D.C. As U.S. politicians and pundits decry Britain’s release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Maset al-Megrahi, British and other European leaders eye the relentless courtship of Libya by Russia and Russia’s clients, and forge ahead with courtships of their own. Libya is not in America’s backyard, but it is in Europe’s, and its long Mediterranean coastline has for centuries made it prime real estate in the East-West struggle for security and empire. The mantle of American security guarantees interrupted that history in the Cold War and its aftermath. Faced, however, with the bore-sighted priorities of the Bush administration’s war on terror, and with the selective “soft power” focus emerging from the Obama administration, our European allies are, with increasing urgency, making their own deals and operating from their own strategies.

Russia’s use of natural gas for political extortion and its strong-arm tactics with Georgia and Ukraine have the EU scrambling for reliable non-Russian energy sources. Europe, unlike North America, is not in a position to choose oil and gas self-sufficiency at its political discretion. Equally important is Moscow’s geo-strategic targeting of Libya in the past few years, which for Europeans evokes memories not only of Soviet naval bases in the Cold War but of centuries of maritime vulnerability to Libyan pirates and brigands under unfriendly Ottoman rule as well. A vulnerability of this sort is only amplified today by modern technology.

Russia and Libya have concluded agreements for warship sales and armored-tank refurbishment in the past year, along with a civil nuclear-power deal and a major energy deal in which British Petroleum’s Russian affiliate competes directly with BP-UK and Qaddafi becomes a benefactor in the electrification of much of northern Africa. The Russian naval task force that went to Venezuela last fall stopped in Tripoli for a port visit at the same time that Russia’s first frigate dispatched for the antipiracy effort off Somalia stopped in Libya for replenishment—both events the first of their kind since 1991. These port visits were followed by Libya’s avowal of its willingness to resume hosting the Russian navy as it did during the Cold War. Two weeks ago Hugo Chavez, headed for Russia, was Qaddafi’s special guest at a commemoration of the latter’s 40th anniversary as Libya’s revolutionary leader.

Britain, France, and Italy have been waging strategic diplomacy with arms deals, energy deals, and friendship agreements of their own. France concluded a major arms and nuclear-energy agreement with Libya in 2007. This weekend’s “revelation” that British Special Forces are training Libyan troops is no surprise to those who remember the 2007 military-cooperation agreement made under Tony Blair, in which such services were promised. Italy and Libya signed a friendship treaty this summer that has already produced joint naval patrols combating illegal immigration and smuggling. All three nations have staked out positions heavily committed to Libya’s oil and gas industry. European initiative was behind the first-ever inclusion of Libya in a recent NATO naval exercise. The EU’s major powers have no intention of seeing Russia acquire exclusive privileges in Libya if they can help it. Their security depends too much on outside energy sources and a friendly, quiescent Mediterranean Sea.

Geography and natural resources are stern taskmasters. It is only when a dominant global power guarantees regional security that nations have the leisure to act diplomatically on other priorities. Britain’s self-interest in releasing the Lockerbie bomber is a hairline crack portending a fissure that will only enlarge as the U.S. retreats from guaranteeing Europe against Russian bases around its southern perimeter and of Russian control of Europe’s access to fossil fuels. If we cared to understand what is happening with our European allies, we could not do better than to start with this reality.

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Pat Buchanan at It Again

Last evening, C-SPAN broadcast a debate in England that was held earlier this month. Patrick Buchanan was one of three individuals (along with Nigel Knight and Norman Stone) who argued for the proposition that Winston Churchill was “more of a liability than an asset to the free world.” According to press accounts, of the 1,800 people who attended, only 181 joined Buchanan in supporting that proposition.

Those opposing the proposition were the distinguished historians Antony Beevor, Richard Overy, and Andrew Roberts. Roberts said the debate was an overwhelming success, adding: “You have to be 76 years old to have voted for Winston Churchill in a general election. This was a very special night which enabled a lot of people who previously couldn’t to vote for Churchill.” Professor Beevor, a leading military historian, said, “I never expected to hear Pat Buchanan backing up Vladimir Putin’s idea that somehow the Brits were responsible for World War Two. Pat Buchanan’s arguments during the debate were quite bizarre. At times people didn’t know whether he was sympathising with Hitler or just being anti-British.” Professor Overy, who has published extensively on the history of World War II, added this: “I thought what Pat Buchanan said was a load of historical nonsense that was all completely out of context.”

What a long, strange journey it’s been for Pat Buchanan, in so many respects. It’s been a sad and, at times, ugly thing to witness.

Last evening, C-SPAN broadcast a debate in England that was held earlier this month. Patrick Buchanan was one of three individuals (along with Nigel Knight and Norman Stone) who argued for the proposition that Winston Churchill was “more of a liability than an asset to the free world.” According to press accounts, of the 1,800 people who attended, only 181 joined Buchanan in supporting that proposition.

Those opposing the proposition were the distinguished historians Antony Beevor, Richard Overy, and Andrew Roberts. Roberts said the debate was an overwhelming success, adding: “You have to be 76 years old to have voted for Winston Churchill in a general election. This was a very special night which enabled a lot of people who previously couldn’t to vote for Churchill.” Professor Beevor, a leading military historian, said, “I never expected to hear Pat Buchanan backing up Vladimir Putin’s idea that somehow the Brits were responsible for World War Two. Pat Buchanan’s arguments during the debate were quite bizarre. At times people didn’t know whether he was sympathising with Hitler or just being anti-British.” Professor Overy, who has published extensively on the history of World War II, added this: “I thought what Pat Buchanan said was a load of historical nonsense that was all completely out of context.”

What a long, strange journey it’s been for Pat Buchanan, in so many respects. It’s been a sad and, at times, ugly thing to witness.

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Projection, It’s Called

Michael Kinsley doesn’t think much of the Democrats’ mission to extract an apology from Rep. Joe Wilson. He writes of the effort to enforce the rule about not calling people liars on the House floor:

Umbrage is itself, generally, a lie. The ostensible victim of the offensive remark (call him or her the “umbragee”) is actually delighted at the opportunity, while the ostensible offense giver (call him or her the “umbragor”) is sorry to have wandered into this thicket, or is made to feel sorry as the umbrage game plays itself out. The rules of the game are perverse but simple: I scream with pain until you cry “uncle.”

The purpose of this rule is to attempt to enforce a level of civility in the political debate. The result, though, is just the opposite: It is simply another opportunity for a fusillade in the Umbrage Wars. No matter how important or otherwise the underlying issue may be, it seems that about three-quarters of American politics can now be distilled down to “How dare you say that!” Taking offense at someone else’s possibly over-vigorous exercise of free speech, demanding an apology and so on has replaced much serious discussion about, oh, health care, the financial crisis, Iraq, Afghanistan, stuff like that. Umbrage is so much easier: You can do it in your sleep, or on talk radio.

But there is another purpose, one consistent with the president’s health-care push: to paint the opposition to ObamaCare as unhinged—or, as the Democrats have described their fellow citizens, “silly” or “evil-mongers” or “un-American.” Only supporters of ObamaCare reside in the “mainstream,” and Democrats, the Obama team warns, are foolish to take all those unreal protesters too seriously.

But this is nothing new for the Left, which has transformed “projection” from a psychological phenomenon into a political strategy. Whether it is impugning the other side’s patriotism or engaging in vicious ad hominem attacks, the Left plays second fiddle to no one. Should we review the “Bush = Hitler” signage from the past eight years? Or the General “Betray-us” ad, which then Sen. Barack Obama could not bring himself to condemn?

Yet now, in the midst of a desperate effort to save Obama’s top legislative priority, the president and his spinners resort to the very tactics they accuse the opposition of employing. It’s remarkable that the president thinks the debate has been “coarsened.” Weren’t he and his staff the ones to announce they’d be running over the opposition, which is only composed of the uninformed and crackpots? Is he sending a “thou shall not coarsen” memo to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid?

On this one, the president and the Democrats would do well to get off the Joe Wilson inquisition. It simply confirms in many voters’ minds that this is the most viciously partisan administration in recent memory.

Michael Kinsley doesn’t think much of the Democrats’ mission to extract an apology from Rep. Joe Wilson. He writes of the effort to enforce the rule about not calling people liars on the House floor:

Umbrage is itself, generally, a lie. The ostensible victim of the offensive remark (call him or her the “umbragee”) is actually delighted at the opportunity, while the ostensible offense giver (call him or her the “umbragor”) is sorry to have wandered into this thicket, or is made to feel sorry as the umbrage game plays itself out. The rules of the game are perverse but simple: I scream with pain until you cry “uncle.”

The purpose of this rule is to attempt to enforce a level of civility in the political debate. The result, though, is just the opposite: It is simply another opportunity for a fusillade in the Umbrage Wars. No matter how important or otherwise the underlying issue may be, it seems that about three-quarters of American politics can now be distilled down to “How dare you say that!” Taking offense at someone else’s possibly over-vigorous exercise of free speech, demanding an apology and so on has replaced much serious discussion about, oh, health care, the financial crisis, Iraq, Afghanistan, stuff like that. Umbrage is so much easier: You can do it in your sleep, or on talk radio.

But there is another purpose, one consistent with the president’s health-care push: to paint the opposition to ObamaCare as unhinged—or, as the Democrats have described their fellow citizens, “silly” or “evil-mongers” or “un-American.” Only supporters of ObamaCare reside in the “mainstream,” and Democrats, the Obama team warns, are foolish to take all those unreal protesters too seriously.

But this is nothing new for the Left, which has transformed “projection” from a psychological phenomenon into a political strategy. Whether it is impugning the other side’s patriotism or engaging in vicious ad hominem attacks, the Left plays second fiddle to no one. Should we review the “Bush = Hitler” signage from the past eight years? Or the General “Betray-us” ad, which then Sen. Barack Obama could not bring himself to condemn?

Yet now, in the midst of a desperate effort to save Obama’s top legislative priority, the president and his spinners resort to the very tactics they accuse the opposition of employing. It’s remarkable that the president thinks the debate has been “coarsened.” Weren’t he and his staff the ones to announce they’d be running over the opposition, which is only composed of the uninformed and crackpots? Is he sending a “thou shall not coarsen” memo to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid?

On this one, the president and the Democrats would do well to get off the Joe Wilson inquisition. It simply confirms in many voters’ minds that this is the most viciously partisan administration in recent memory.

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A Priest of Liberalism Reacts

If adjectives were analysis, Leon Wieseltier’s review of Norman Podhoretz’s Why Are Jews Liberals? in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review would be impressive. Wieseltier suggested that the book and/or its author is “dreary,” “completely axiomatic,” in a state of “apocalyptic excitation,” “trite,” “anti-intellectual,” “sputtering,” a “heresy hunter,” and possessed of a “voyeuristic” admiration for the Orthodox. Wieseltier was apparently not amused.

I have a different view of the book, as did the 10 prominent writers in the COMMENTARY and Tablet Magazine symposiums, among others. This post is intended not to refute Wieseltier’s argument (to the extent that a string of adjectives is even a reasoned argument) but rather to note that his review is further evidence of one of liberalism’s increasingly illiberal tendencies: reacting with hyperbolic criticism to those who dare challenge it.

The title of Wieseltier’s review—“Because They Believe”—effectively captures its spirit: Jews are liberals, according to Wieseltier, because of “the dispensations of 20th-century liberalism.” The use of the word dispensations, with its religious connotations, is obviously intentional, and the three-word title of the review reflects an analysis only slightly more sophisticated than “It’s the religion, stupid!”

Wieseltier correctly argues that Judaism is neither inherently liberal nor conservative, but that observation does not address Podhoretz’s contention that liberalism has become a religion itself—one that, for many American Jews, has replaced Judaism, and one that (not to put too fine a point on it) does not welcome discussion of its fundamental dogma.

Podhoretz’s contention is provocative, but here is one way to test it: if liberalism were a religion, one would expect a book such as Why Are Jews Liberals? to provoke from one of its priests not a reasoned response but a refutation in hysterical terms, in the religion’s paper of record, using a set of adjectives intended not to communicate but to excommunicate.

If adjectives were analysis, Leon Wieseltier’s review of Norman Podhoretz’s Why Are Jews Liberals? in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review would be impressive. Wieseltier suggested that the book and/or its author is “dreary,” “completely axiomatic,” in a state of “apocalyptic excitation,” “trite,” “anti-intellectual,” “sputtering,” a “heresy hunter,” and possessed of a “voyeuristic” admiration for the Orthodox. Wieseltier was apparently not amused.

I have a different view of the book, as did the 10 prominent writers in the COMMENTARY and Tablet Magazine symposiums, among others. This post is intended not to refute Wieseltier’s argument (to the extent that a string of adjectives is even a reasoned argument) but rather to note that his review is further evidence of one of liberalism’s increasingly illiberal tendencies: reacting with hyperbolic criticism to those who dare challenge it.

The title of Wieseltier’s review—“Because They Believe”—effectively captures its spirit: Jews are liberals, according to Wieseltier, because of “the dispensations of 20th-century liberalism.” The use of the word dispensations, with its religious connotations, is obviously intentional, and the three-word title of the review reflects an analysis only slightly more sophisticated than “It’s the religion, stupid!”

Wieseltier correctly argues that Judaism is neither inherently liberal nor conservative, but that observation does not address Podhoretz’s contention that liberalism has become a religion itself—one that, for many American Jews, has replaced Judaism, and one that (not to put too fine a point on it) does not welcome discussion of its fundamental dogma.

Podhoretz’s contention is provocative, but here is one way to test it: if liberalism were a religion, one would expect a book such as Why Are Jews Liberals? to provoke from one of its priests not a reasoned response but a refutation in hysterical terms, in the religion’s paper of record, using a set of adjectives intended not to communicate but to excommunicate.

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Bias? What Bias?

Howard Kurtz acknowledges that the mainstream media blew the Van Jones story. But he doesn’t think the answer is bias, he explains:

Some conservatives accused journalists of liberal bias; it is just as likely that their radar malfunctioned, or that they collectively dismissed Beck as a rabble-rouser.

New York Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson told readers online that the paper was “a beat behind on this story” and that while the Washington bureau was short-staffed during a holiday week, “we should have been paying closer attention.”

The follow-up news pieces focused on the administration’s failure to vet Jones’s background. Perhaps the media bloodhounds should be just as curious why they failed to sniff out a story that ended with a White House resignation.

If this were an isolated event or if the “Whoops, missed that!” errors were equally distributed among stories that hurt the Left and the Right, Kurtz’s explanation might be plausible. But at this point, the denial of bias is nothing short of absurd. The New York Times for weeks and weeks during the campaign ignored the Reverend Wright story. The entire mainstream media played dumb while the surge in Iraq proved successful—until candidate Obama planned a trip there. Chas Freeman was a name not spoken on the news pages of the Times or the Washington Post until his appointment was withdrawn. And on the other side, was there a single gaffe, error, or scandal in the Bush administration that went unnoticed or underreported by the mainstream media?

But Kurtz then proceeds to tell us that, in fact, the media has fallen even further into disrepute:

Public respect for the media has plunged to a new low, with just 29 percent of Americans saying that news organizations generally get their facts straight.

That figure is the lowest in more than two decades of surveys by the Pew Research Center, which also found just 26 percent saying news outlets are careful that their reporting is not politically biased. And 70 percent say news organizations try to cover up their mistakes. That amounts to a stunning vote of no confidence.

And while Democrats are increasingly displeased with the media, Republicans remain the most aggrieved. According to Pew, only 25 percent of Republicans thought the press was fair to Bush, while 68 percent of Democrats approved the daily flogging Bush received at the hands of the media.

It might come as no surprise that the Washington Post‘s media critic can’t find evidence of bias (no doubt the coverage of Bob McDonnell by his paper seems evenhanded to him as well). But the public certainly can, and they’ve, in overwhelming numbers, reached the conclusion that the media can’t be trusted. Perhaps if mainstream news outlets owned up to their bias rather than hunker down in willful ignorance, there might be a chance to recover the public’s trust. But if Kurtz is any indication, there is little chance of that happening.

Howard Kurtz acknowledges that the mainstream media blew the Van Jones story. But he doesn’t think the answer is bias, he explains:

Some conservatives accused journalists of liberal bias; it is just as likely that their radar malfunctioned, or that they collectively dismissed Beck as a rabble-rouser.

New York Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson told readers online that the paper was “a beat behind on this story” and that while the Washington bureau was short-staffed during a holiday week, “we should have been paying closer attention.”

The follow-up news pieces focused on the administration’s failure to vet Jones’s background. Perhaps the media bloodhounds should be just as curious why they failed to sniff out a story that ended with a White House resignation.

If this were an isolated event or if the “Whoops, missed that!” errors were equally distributed among stories that hurt the Left and the Right, Kurtz’s explanation might be plausible. But at this point, the denial of bias is nothing short of absurd. The New York Times for weeks and weeks during the campaign ignored the Reverend Wright story. The entire mainstream media played dumb while the surge in Iraq proved successful—until candidate Obama planned a trip there. Chas Freeman was a name not spoken on the news pages of the Times or the Washington Post until his appointment was withdrawn. And on the other side, was there a single gaffe, error, or scandal in the Bush administration that went unnoticed or underreported by the mainstream media?

But Kurtz then proceeds to tell us that, in fact, the media has fallen even further into disrepute:

Public respect for the media has plunged to a new low, with just 29 percent of Americans saying that news organizations generally get their facts straight.

That figure is the lowest in more than two decades of surveys by the Pew Research Center, which also found just 26 percent saying news outlets are careful that their reporting is not politically biased. And 70 percent say news organizations try to cover up their mistakes. That amounts to a stunning vote of no confidence.

And while Democrats are increasingly displeased with the media, Republicans remain the most aggrieved. According to Pew, only 25 percent of Republicans thought the press was fair to Bush, while 68 percent of Democrats approved the daily flogging Bush received at the hands of the media.

It might come as no surprise that the Washington Post‘s media critic can’t find evidence of bias (no doubt the coverage of Bob McDonnell by his paper seems evenhanded to him as well). But the public certainly can, and they’ve, in overwhelming numbers, reached the conclusion that the media can’t be trusted. Perhaps if mainstream news outlets owned up to their bias rather than hunker down in willful ignorance, there might be a chance to recover the public’s trust. But if Kurtz is any indication, there is little chance of that happening.

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Getting Congress to “Do Things”

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) accidentally revealed the fatal flaw in ObamaCare yesterday on Fox News Sunday when she was interviewed by Chris Wallace. Ostensibly, the whole point of ObamaCare is to “bend the cost curve downward,” making medical care less expensive and thus more affordable. But as McCaskill makes clear, that can’t happen in a country where the right to petition the government (i.e., lobby) is constitutionally guaranteed and politicians need to get re-elected.

WALLACE: But—but, Senator McCaskill, let me—let me ask you, because this is a question I get a lot in e-mails: If there is already hundreds of billions of dollars of waste and fraud in Medicare, why would we want to trust government with an even bigger role in health care? . . .

MCCASKILL: Well, part of the problem is—is that we’ve had the private sector come in and get Congress to do things. A great example is Medicare D. For gosh sakes, where were all the fiscal conservatives, you know, five or six years ago when the Republican Congress and Republican president …

WALLACE: We should point out that’s the prescription drug benefit.

MCCASKILL: … passed a trillion-dollar program without any way of paying for it? That’s a good example of where we have transferred money from taxpayers to private insurance companies, and it has not produced the kind of result the American people deserve.

Actually, Medicare Part D has cost far less than expected, thanks to the utilization of private-sector competition to hold down costs. But that aside, McCaskill admits that Congress can be (and frequently has been) successfully pressured to provide benefits it can’t pay for out of current income. Congress, after all, wants to hand out goodies to constituents and, through Medicare, has handed out trillions of dollars over the past 44 years. Does anyone think that if the government takes over the rest of medical care in this country, Congress will suddenly mend its ways and become tightfisted, bending the cost curve downward over time? Or will it just utilize the several ways ObamaCare enables one to buy re-election with the next generation’s money?

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) accidentally revealed the fatal flaw in ObamaCare yesterday on Fox News Sunday when she was interviewed by Chris Wallace. Ostensibly, the whole point of ObamaCare is to “bend the cost curve downward,” making medical care less expensive and thus more affordable. But as McCaskill makes clear, that can’t happen in a country where the right to petition the government (i.e., lobby) is constitutionally guaranteed and politicians need to get re-elected.

WALLACE: But—but, Senator McCaskill, let me—let me ask you, because this is a question I get a lot in e-mails: If there is already hundreds of billions of dollars of waste and fraud in Medicare, why would we want to trust government with an even bigger role in health care? . . .

MCCASKILL: Well, part of the problem is—is that we’ve had the private sector come in and get Congress to do things. A great example is Medicare D. For gosh sakes, where were all the fiscal conservatives, you know, five or six years ago when the Republican Congress and Republican president …

WALLACE: We should point out that’s the prescription drug benefit.

MCCASKILL: … passed a trillion-dollar program without any way of paying for it? That’s a good example of where we have transferred money from taxpayers to private insurance companies, and it has not produced the kind of result the American people deserve.

Actually, Medicare Part D has cost far less than expected, thanks to the utilization of private-sector competition to hold down costs. But that aside, McCaskill admits that Congress can be (and frequently has been) successfully pressured to provide benefits it can’t pay for out of current income. Congress, after all, wants to hand out goodies to constituents and, through Medicare, has handed out trillions of dollars over the past 44 years. Does anyone think that if the government takes over the rest of medical care in this country, Congress will suddenly mend its ways and become tightfisted, bending the cost curve downward over time? Or will it just utilize the several ways ObamaCare enables one to buy re-election with the next generation’s money?

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Hmm, Could It Be the Obama Agenda?

The chairwoman of the White House council of economic advisers repeats the warning of many of her colleagues:

White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairwoman Christina Romer said that, in 2010, the economy will likely grow but the jobless rate will peak at 10 percent and won’t start falling at a rapid clip.

[ . . .]

She added that “it will take a lot of rapid GDP growth … to bring [unemployment] down to normal levels.”

White House economists in recent days have warned that the economic recovery won’t be swift. Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council, said last week that unemployment will “remain unacceptably high for a number years.”

The White House’s mid-year budget review predicted 3.3 percent GDP growth and a full-year unemployment rate of 9.8 percent in 2010. While the economy would grow by at least 5 percent in each of the following six years, the jobless rate would remain above 6 percent until 2014, according to the official White House forecast. The unemployment rate in 2007, before the recession began, was less than 5 percent.

While the honesty is refreshing, there is an apparent lack of understanding—or curiosity—about why the unemployment rate is going to remain so high. Well, we had a lot of job losses right away. And productivity is very high. Hmm. Isn’t there something else at play here?

It seems the elephant in the room is the administration’s own agenda. The prospect of higher taxes, more regulation, health-care mandates, a trade war with China, and an ever-growing mound of debt just waiting to be “monetized” somehow have not jump-started growth and hiring. There are plenty of independent economists looking at this issue and many ideas on how to spur job growth. The administration, however, continues to push for policies at odds with job growth in the private sector. Romer might not want to point this out, but the critics of the president and of the congressional authors of the raft of legislation (which treats the private sector as the cause and not the solution to our economic problems) haven’t been—and won’t be in upcoming elections—so silent.

The chairwoman of the White House council of economic advisers repeats the warning of many of her colleagues:

White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairwoman Christina Romer said that, in 2010, the economy will likely grow but the jobless rate will peak at 10 percent and won’t start falling at a rapid clip.

[ . . .]

She added that “it will take a lot of rapid GDP growth … to bring [unemployment] down to normal levels.”

White House economists in recent days have warned that the economic recovery won’t be swift. Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council, said last week that unemployment will “remain unacceptably high for a number years.”

The White House’s mid-year budget review predicted 3.3 percent GDP growth and a full-year unemployment rate of 9.8 percent in 2010. While the economy would grow by at least 5 percent in each of the following six years, the jobless rate would remain above 6 percent until 2014, according to the official White House forecast. The unemployment rate in 2007, before the recession began, was less than 5 percent.

While the honesty is refreshing, there is an apparent lack of understanding—or curiosity—about why the unemployment rate is going to remain so high. Well, we had a lot of job losses right away. And productivity is very high. Hmm. Isn’t there something else at play here?

It seems the elephant in the room is the administration’s own agenda. The prospect of higher taxes, more regulation, health-care mandates, a trade war with China, and an ever-growing mound of debt just waiting to be “monetized” somehow have not jump-started growth and hiring. There are plenty of independent economists looking at this issue and many ideas on how to spur job growth. The administration, however, continues to push for policies at odds with job growth in the private sector. Romer might not want to point this out, but the critics of the president and of the congressional authors of the raft of legislation (which treats the private sector as the cause and not the solution to our economic problems) haven’t been—and won’t be in upcoming elections—so silent.

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Obama Doesn’t Change Minds

The Washington Post–ABC poll shows that Obama made no statistically measurable difference in the health-care debate. Before the speech, Americans (not voters, as other polls generally measure) opposed ObamaCare by a margin of 50-45 percent. Afterward, by a margin of 48-46 percent. (The margin of error is +/- 3 percent). Fifty-four percent say the more they learn the less they like it. (The poll numbers for ObamaCare are virtually identical in that regard to those for HillaryCare.) Thirty-two percent say their own health care will get worse if changed, while only 16 percent say it will get better. By a small margin, respondents’ say other people’s will get worse, too. A remarkable 86 percent say they already have health-care insurance. But this sample group is fickle: they like the idea of a government-created plan to compete with private plans, by a 55-42 percent margin, but if it doesn’t include a public option, the support for the plan turns from negative (46-48 percent) to positive (50-42 percent). Hmm.

Respondents are evenly divided on whether they think they will in fact get to keep their existing health-care plan as the president has (sort of) promised. Forty-five percent say the plan creates too much government involvement, while 41 percent say it gets it about right. Maybe the most telling number: 40 percent say it would weaken Medicare, while only 22 percent say it would strengthen it. Seventy-one percent think the plan should be changed to attract Republican support, while 25 percent do not. By a small margin, respondents oppose taxing insurance companies, and they really oppose it if the companies will in turn raise prices. A whopping 65 percent think health-care reform is going to increase the deficit (39 percent say it will increase it “a great deal”).

And the kicker: not only doesn’t the poll assess voters’ sentiments (let alone likely voters), the sample has a split of 32 percent Democrats and 21 percent Republicans. (This poll’s partisan advantage for Democrats is higher than the one on Election Day and comes at a time when most polls show Republican identification increasing. Gallup, for example, shows the Democratic advantage narrowing to just 5 points.) So actual voter sentiment may be far worse for Obama than this poll reflects.

What does all this mean? ObamaCare isn’t any more popular than it was before the great address, it’s in about the same spot as HillaryCare, voters think their own care will get worse and Medicare will suffer, and they really, really don’t want a Democratic-only bill. The only good news for the administration is that voters seem to blame Republicans more for the difficulty in passing the bill. If there is any news that might encourage Blue Dogs (whose constituents are furious about deficit-spending and don’t like hyper-partisan politics) to jump on the Obama-Pelosi-Reid reconciliation plan (the “jam-it-home-with-no Republican-support-and-voters-won’t-care” game plan), it’s hard to find. Oh—and voters don’t buy (not remotely) the idea that this health-care reform won’t add a dime to the deficit.

The Washington Post–ABC poll shows that Obama made no statistically measurable difference in the health-care debate. Before the speech, Americans (not voters, as other polls generally measure) opposed ObamaCare by a margin of 50-45 percent. Afterward, by a margin of 48-46 percent. (The margin of error is +/- 3 percent). Fifty-four percent say the more they learn the less they like it. (The poll numbers for ObamaCare are virtually identical in that regard to those for HillaryCare.) Thirty-two percent say their own health care will get worse if changed, while only 16 percent say it will get better. By a small margin, respondents’ say other people’s will get worse, too. A remarkable 86 percent say they already have health-care insurance. But this sample group is fickle: they like the idea of a government-created plan to compete with private plans, by a 55-42 percent margin, but if it doesn’t include a public option, the support for the plan turns from negative (46-48 percent) to positive (50-42 percent). Hmm.

Respondents are evenly divided on whether they think they will in fact get to keep their existing health-care plan as the president has (sort of) promised. Forty-five percent say the plan creates too much government involvement, while 41 percent say it gets it about right. Maybe the most telling number: 40 percent say it would weaken Medicare, while only 22 percent say it would strengthen it. Seventy-one percent think the plan should be changed to attract Republican support, while 25 percent do not. By a small margin, respondents oppose taxing insurance companies, and they really oppose it if the companies will in turn raise prices. A whopping 65 percent think health-care reform is going to increase the deficit (39 percent say it will increase it “a great deal”).

And the kicker: not only doesn’t the poll assess voters’ sentiments (let alone likely voters), the sample has a split of 32 percent Democrats and 21 percent Republicans. (This poll’s partisan advantage for Democrats is higher than the one on Election Day and comes at a time when most polls show Republican identification increasing. Gallup, for example, shows the Democratic advantage narrowing to just 5 points.) So actual voter sentiment may be far worse for Obama than this poll reflects.

What does all this mean? ObamaCare isn’t any more popular than it was before the great address, it’s in about the same spot as HillaryCare, voters think their own care will get worse and Medicare will suffer, and they really, really don’t want a Democratic-only bill. The only good news for the administration is that voters seem to blame Republicans more for the difficulty in passing the bill. If there is any news that might encourage Blue Dogs (whose constituents are furious about deficit-spending and don’t like hyper-partisan politics) to jump on the Obama-Pelosi-Reid reconciliation plan (the “jam-it-home-with-no Republican-support-and-voters-won’t-care” game plan), it’s hard to find. Oh—and voters don’t buy (not remotely) the idea that this health-care reform won’t add a dime to the deficit.

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Why Not Build on Success?

This report explains that, in the midst of a worldwide recession, there is one locale with a remarkable record of robust growth:

The economy in Palestinian West Bank remains on course to grow about 7 percent this year, for the first growth since 2005, according to the International Monetary Fund.

In notes to media accompanying a report the IMF will present to donors at the United Nations on Sept. 22, the international lending agency said on Sunday achieving the projected figure largely depended on Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians.

“For the first time since 2005, there is a realistic chance that the downward trend in Palestinians’ living standards in the West Bank can be reversed in the near future, provided that [Israeli] restrictions on movement and access continue to eased,” said Oussama Kanaan, the IMF’s representative in the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinian officials have continued to press for the relaxation of check points, an issue Bibi Netanyahu has addressed, as he agreed he would. As the report notes, “Declaring it wanted to shore up the economy in the West Bank, where Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas holds sway, Israel has removed several major military roadblocks, easing the flow of Palestinian traffic in the territory.”

One would think the Obama administration would seek to build on this success, recognize the progress made, and tout the efforts of Israel and Palestinians. But instead, the Obama administration continues to harp on the issue of Israel’s settlements, which when not resolved in absolute terms, merely fuels Palestinian rejectionism and victimology. A U.S. official writing on the aftermath of the failed peace talks at Camp David in 2001 explained the trap:

It is not, as Abba Eban said, that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. It is that in always feeling victimized they fall back on blaming everyone else for their predicament. It is never their fault. History may not have been kind or fair to the Palestinians. They have suffered and been betrayed by others. They are, surely, the weakest player with the fewest cards to play. But by always blaming others, they never have to focus on their own mistakes. And that perpetuates the avoidance of responsibility, not its assumption.

That same official counseled in 2007 that rather than seeking a maximalist solution, the better course is to “enhance effectiveness, organization and delivery of services at the local level for the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank,” press for reform within the Palestinian Authority, and continue to open up “movement in certain areas as Palestinians demonstrate the capacity or are helped to perform on security.” It makes no sense, he advised, to go about “pushing for an objective that is demonstrably not achievable.” After all, “this administration does not need one more far-reaching, transformational objective in the Middle East that would quickly be revealed as hollow. Instead, now is the time to redefine our objective.” What we should be doing is making the West Bank “a model of success to show Palestinians and others in the region that moderates deliver and Islamists do not.”

The author of all those quotes is, of course, Dennis Ross. So it remains a mystery why his views—and the obvious progress being made on the ground in the West Bank—do not inspire the Obama administration’s efforts. That advice, forged in the failure of “peace process” negotiations over multiple administrations, has been cast aside. The alternative adopted by the Obama administration (in addition to the embarrassing refusal to deal with the lethal threat posed by Iran) is a new anti-Israel propaganda and diplomatic offensive and the fruitless search for the very type of grand deal that Ross rightly concluded was simply not in the cards. Maybe Ross believes the magnificence of Obama’s personal charisma will magically open the door to a grand deal. Or maybe the views put forth by Ross have been cast aside by those who simply have a fond desire to draw close to the “Muslim world” regardless of the consequences.

But whatever the rationale, the results are inescapable: the Israeli government, working in concert with authorities on the West Bank, has made remarkable progress in trying circumstances. Obama’s gambit has been a failure to date. Maybe it’s time for some “self-reflection” and a change in policy.

This report explains that, in the midst of a worldwide recession, there is one locale with a remarkable record of robust growth:

The economy in Palestinian West Bank remains on course to grow about 7 percent this year, for the first growth since 2005, according to the International Monetary Fund.

In notes to media accompanying a report the IMF will present to donors at the United Nations on Sept. 22, the international lending agency said on Sunday achieving the projected figure largely depended on Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians.

“For the first time since 2005, there is a realistic chance that the downward trend in Palestinians’ living standards in the West Bank can be reversed in the near future, provided that [Israeli] restrictions on movement and access continue to eased,” said Oussama Kanaan, the IMF’s representative in the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinian officials have continued to press for the relaxation of check points, an issue Bibi Netanyahu has addressed, as he agreed he would. As the report notes, “Declaring it wanted to shore up the economy in the West Bank, where Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas holds sway, Israel has removed several major military roadblocks, easing the flow of Palestinian traffic in the territory.”

One would think the Obama administration would seek to build on this success, recognize the progress made, and tout the efforts of Israel and Palestinians. But instead, the Obama administration continues to harp on the issue of Israel’s settlements, which when not resolved in absolute terms, merely fuels Palestinian rejectionism and victimology. A U.S. official writing on the aftermath of the failed peace talks at Camp David in 2001 explained the trap:

It is not, as Abba Eban said, that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. It is that in always feeling victimized they fall back on blaming everyone else for their predicament. It is never their fault. History may not have been kind or fair to the Palestinians. They have suffered and been betrayed by others. They are, surely, the weakest player with the fewest cards to play. But by always blaming others, they never have to focus on their own mistakes. And that perpetuates the avoidance of responsibility, not its assumption.

That same official counseled in 2007 that rather than seeking a maximalist solution, the better course is to “enhance effectiveness, organization and delivery of services at the local level for the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank,” press for reform within the Palestinian Authority, and continue to open up “movement in certain areas as Palestinians demonstrate the capacity or are helped to perform on security.” It makes no sense, he advised, to go about “pushing for an objective that is demonstrably not achievable.” After all, “this administration does not need one more far-reaching, transformational objective in the Middle East that would quickly be revealed as hollow. Instead, now is the time to redefine our objective.” What we should be doing is making the West Bank “a model of success to show Palestinians and others in the region that moderates deliver and Islamists do not.”

The author of all those quotes is, of course, Dennis Ross. So it remains a mystery why his views—and the obvious progress being made on the ground in the West Bank—do not inspire the Obama administration’s efforts. That advice, forged in the failure of “peace process” negotiations over multiple administrations, has been cast aside. The alternative adopted by the Obama administration (in addition to the embarrassing refusal to deal with the lethal threat posed by Iran) is a new anti-Israel propaganda and diplomatic offensive and the fruitless search for the very type of grand deal that Ross rightly concluded was simply not in the cards. Maybe Ross believes the magnificence of Obama’s personal charisma will magically open the door to a grand deal. Or maybe the views put forth by Ross have been cast aside by those who simply have a fond desire to draw close to the “Muslim world” regardless of the consequences.

But whatever the rationale, the results are inescapable: the Israeli government, working in concert with authorities on the West Bank, has made remarkable progress in trying circumstances. Obama’s gambit has been a failure to date. Maybe it’s time for some “self-reflection” and a change in policy.

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He Refuses to Take Us Seriously!

The crack reporting team at the Washington Post, having conducted a multi-week effort to make Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell’s 20-year-old thesis a major campaign issue (actually, to make it the entire campaign), is plainly miffed. He’s not taking the bait and is essentially ignoring the Post‘s made-up scandal. Doesn’t he know how vital it is? Naturally, the Post has no choice but to run a story on McDonnell’s ignoring the Post’s coverage. No, really. The Post explains:

Two weeks ago, after McDonnell’s 20-year-old graduate thesis surfaced, he was forced to respond to the firestorm that his past views on working women, feminists and homosexuals created—but only briefly. He held a conference call with reporters to answer questions and then insisted, despite continued attacks by Deeds, that he had moved on. “He’s talking about former presidents and former governors and divisive social issues,” McDonnell said. “He’s talking about things people don’t care about. So why would I engage him?”

Where exactly was the “firestorm”? Why, on the pages of the Post, you see. Unfortunately for the Post, McDonnell isn’t playing along:

Each time Deeds attacks, McDonnell criticizes Deeds’s actions and sidesteps those issues as he tries to stay above the fray and focus solely on jobs, the economy and a handful of federal measures. McDonnell’s strategy has proven difficult the past two weeks after the release of the thesis, but the campaign insists it’s the right one.

Jerry W. Kilgore, former attorney general and the GOP nominee for governor in 2005, said Republicans have advised McDonnell to avoid a natural inclination to respond to the attacks and instead remain disciplined in his message. Getting bogged down on abortion and other social issues would only make him vulnerable, Republicans say.

And of course McDonnell has one advantage (aside from his opponent’s failure to come up with distinct policy positions and no evidence the voters care about a two-decades-old term paper): the mood these days, especially in Virginia, is not favorable to Democrats. So McDonnell would just as soon focus on issues and liberal Democrats’ overreach.

That leaves only one option for the Post. Tomorrow’s headline must certainly be: “McDonnell Still Ignoring Post’s Thesis Story.”

The crack reporting team at the Washington Post, having conducted a multi-week effort to make Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell’s 20-year-old thesis a major campaign issue (actually, to make it the entire campaign), is plainly miffed. He’s not taking the bait and is essentially ignoring the Post‘s made-up scandal. Doesn’t he know how vital it is? Naturally, the Post has no choice but to run a story on McDonnell’s ignoring the Post’s coverage. No, really. The Post explains:

Two weeks ago, after McDonnell’s 20-year-old graduate thesis surfaced, he was forced to respond to the firestorm that his past views on working women, feminists and homosexuals created—but only briefly. He held a conference call with reporters to answer questions and then insisted, despite continued attacks by Deeds, that he had moved on. “He’s talking about former presidents and former governors and divisive social issues,” McDonnell said. “He’s talking about things people don’t care about. So why would I engage him?”

Where exactly was the “firestorm”? Why, on the pages of the Post, you see. Unfortunately for the Post, McDonnell isn’t playing along:

Each time Deeds attacks, McDonnell criticizes Deeds’s actions and sidesteps those issues as he tries to stay above the fray and focus solely on jobs, the economy and a handful of federal measures. McDonnell’s strategy has proven difficult the past two weeks after the release of the thesis, but the campaign insists it’s the right one.

Jerry W. Kilgore, former attorney general and the GOP nominee for governor in 2005, said Republicans have advised McDonnell to avoid a natural inclination to respond to the attacks and instead remain disciplined in his message. Getting bogged down on abortion and other social issues would only make him vulnerable, Republicans say.

And of course McDonnell has one advantage (aside from his opponent’s failure to come up with distinct policy positions and no evidence the voters care about a two-decades-old term paper): the mood these days, especially in Virginia, is not favorable to Democrats. So McDonnell would just as soon focus on issues and liberal Democrats’ overreach.

That leaves only one option for the Post. Tomorrow’s headline must certainly be: “McDonnell Still Ignoring Post’s Thesis Story.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sounds like Sen. Olympia Snowe doesn’t want to “trigger” the public option: “A key Senate Republican wants President Barack Obama to withdraw his backing of a public option in order to win over skeptical Republicans. ‘I urge the president to take the public option off the table,’ Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation.’ ‘It is a roadblock to building the kind of consensus we need to move forward. . . . It would be best to just move forward.’ Snowe said she appreciated the president’s flexibility to negotiate on the issue, but leaving the idea out there creates ‘uncertainty in the process.’ ” One wonders why Obama didn’t make the grand gesture of taking it off the table in the speech.

Bill Kristol points out Obama’s hubris in declaring that he “owns” the health-care bill. Of course we are the ones who will have to live with it. And while he’s “owning” it, he might tell us how he’s paying for it.

And on the Democrats’ obsession with censoring Joe Wilson and jamming through health-care reform in a month: “He is leading his party off a cliff, and Speaker Pelosi is going to lead his party—her party off the cliff if they try to rebuke Joe Wilson. He has apologized. It will be a disgrace if they do some stunt in the House to try to humiliate this man, who is, in fact—has a reputation for bipartisan on the Armed Services Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee he’s on. Obama and Pelosi are leading the party off a cliff, I think, and I hope a lot of Democrats say, ‘Slow down. Let’s take a look at this bill.’”

Meanwhile, Obama didn’t exactly relate accurately the heartbreaking story of the man who died, according to Obama, because his insurance was canceled. Lynn Sweet has the details.

It seems lots of Obama’s stories aren’t quite true.

And David Axelrod says that the protesters aren’t “mainstream.” Only those who agree with Obama or who are too passive to speak up get that distinction?

Brit Hume has a different take: “It is a further reminder that on this issue, regardless of what the polls say about who favors what, almost all the intensity is with the people who are resisting the president and the Democrats in Congress on this issue.”

Do you think those 54 lawmakers are prepared to ignore the public because they are “silly” or “misinformed,” according to Obama? “Despite sweeping Democratic successes in the past two national elections, continuing job losses and President Barack Obama’s slipping support could lead to double-digit losses for the party in next year’s congressional races and may even threaten their House control. Fifty-four new Democrats were swept into the House in 2006 and 2008, helping the party claim a decisive majority as voters soured on a Republican president and embraced Obama’s message of hope and change. Many of the new Democrats are in districts carried by Republican John McCain in last year’s presidential contest; others are in traditional swing districts that have proved tough for either party to hold.”

Sen. Diane Feinstein declares that we need a time limit in Afghanistan. I look forward to Obama’s explanation as to why deadlines are not smart, why our enemy will only lay low and wait for us to leave, and why it’s necessary to give commanders time to turn things around. If stumped, he can use John McCain’s speech and debate material on Iraq from the 2008 campaign.

Remember Obama’s promise to give other countries a “dignity promotion”? Honduras would like one about now.

Chris Christie holds an eight-point lead in the latest New Jersey gubernatorial poll.

Sounds like Sen. Olympia Snowe doesn’t want to “trigger” the public option: “A key Senate Republican wants President Barack Obama to withdraw his backing of a public option in order to win over skeptical Republicans. ‘I urge the president to take the public option off the table,’ Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation.’ ‘It is a roadblock to building the kind of consensus we need to move forward. . . . It would be best to just move forward.’ Snowe said she appreciated the president’s flexibility to negotiate on the issue, but leaving the idea out there creates ‘uncertainty in the process.’ ” One wonders why Obama didn’t make the grand gesture of taking it off the table in the speech.

Bill Kristol points out Obama’s hubris in declaring that he “owns” the health-care bill. Of course we are the ones who will have to live with it. And while he’s “owning” it, he might tell us how he’s paying for it.

And on the Democrats’ obsession with censoring Joe Wilson and jamming through health-care reform in a month: “He is leading his party off a cliff, and Speaker Pelosi is going to lead his party—her party off the cliff if they try to rebuke Joe Wilson. He has apologized. It will be a disgrace if they do some stunt in the House to try to humiliate this man, who is, in fact—has a reputation for bipartisan on the Armed Services Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee he’s on. Obama and Pelosi are leading the party off a cliff, I think, and I hope a lot of Democrats say, ‘Slow down. Let’s take a look at this bill.’”

Meanwhile, Obama didn’t exactly relate accurately the heartbreaking story of the man who died, according to Obama, because his insurance was canceled. Lynn Sweet has the details.

It seems lots of Obama’s stories aren’t quite true.

And David Axelrod says that the protesters aren’t “mainstream.” Only those who agree with Obama or who are too passive to speak up get that distinction?

Brit Hume has a different take: “It is a further reminder that on this issue, regardless of what the polls say about who favors what, almost all the intensity is with the people who are resisting the president and the Democrats in Congress on this issue.”

Do you think those 54 lawmakers are prepared to ignore the public because they are “silly” or “misinformed,” according to Obama? “Despite sweeping Democratic successes in the past two national elections, continuing job losses and President Barack Obama’s slipping support could lead to double-digit losses for the party in next year’s congressional races and may even threaten their House control. Fifty-four new Democrats were swept into the House in 2006 and 2008, helping the party claim a decisive majority as voters soured on a Republican president and embraced Obama’s message of hope and change. Many of the new Democrats are in districts carried by Republican John McCain in last year’s presidential contest; others are in traditional swing districts that have proved tough for either party to hold.”

Sen. Diane Feinstein declares that we need a time limit in Afghanistan. I look forward to Obama’s explanation as to why deadlines are not smart, why our enemy will only lay low and wait for us to leave, and why it’s necessary to give commanders time to turn things around. If stumped, he can use John McCain’s speech and debate material on Iraq from the 2008 campaign.

Remember Obama’s promise to give other countries a “dignity promotion”? Honduras would like one about now.

Chris Christie holds an eight-point lead in the latest New Jersey gubernatorial poll.

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The Middle Road to Ruin

Sens. Lindsay Graham, John McCain, and Joe Lieberman make the case for a robust effort in Afghanistan and warn against a middling compromise on troop levels. It’s an old dodge of course—give the president a few options, set up a “middle ground,” and give the appearance of reasonableness despite overwhelming evidence that the middle ground won’t get the job done. The senators explain:

It is precisely this middle path—which the previous administration pursued for too long in Iraq—that is a recipe for quagmire and collapse of political support for the war at home. Mr. Obama was right when he said last year that “You don’t muddle through the central front on terror. . . . You don’t muddle through stamping out the Taliban.”

We have reached a seminal moment in our struggle against violent Islamist extremism, and we must commit the “decisive force” that Gen. McChrystal tells us carries the least risk of failure.

We believe that the short-term political reaction from Congress to any increase in troop numbers, no matter how small or large, will be essentially the same. The key question is whether the increase is substantial enough to have a decisive effect on the course of the war within the next 12 to 18 months. If we are to send more of our brave men and women in uniform into harm’s way, we should do so in a way that carries the greatest probability of success.

The danger of a middle-ground approach is especially acute with Obama, who has made an art form out of setting up extreme alternatives (often straw men on both sides) and rushing to claim the “reasonable” center. But here the center may not be reasonable at all.

The senators urge the president to give an address and call Gen. McChrystal “back to Washington to testify before Congress about his new strategy and the resources it will require.” That’s what President George W. Bush did when he summoned Gen. David Petraeus to support the surge—and undermine the hapless and uninformed senators (including the junior senators from New York and Illinois) who really didn’t want to give victory a chance. Once again we are faced with a question: Do we have the will to win?

The trio of senators conclude: “At last, we have the right strategy and the civilian and military leaders on the ground in Afghanistan to carry it out. This is a must-win war. And now is the time to commit the decisive military force necessary to prevail.” We’ll see whether Obama does that or takes the middle road, the path of least resistance, which  asks that we risk the loss of more lives and treasure without maximizing chances for a positive outcome.

Sens. Lindsay Graham, John McCain, and Joe Lieberman make the case for a robust effort in Afghanistan and warn against a middling compromise on troop levels. It’s an old dodge of course—give the president a few options, set up a “middle ground,” and give the appearance of reasonableness despite overwhelming evidence that the middle ground won’t get the job done. The senators explain:

It is precisely this middle path—which the previous administration pursued for too long in Iraq—that is a recipe for quagmire and collapse of political support for the war at home. Mr. Obama was right when he said last year that “You don’t muddle through the central front on terror. . . . You don’t muddle through stamping out the Taliban.”

We have reached a seminal moment in our struggle against violent Islamist extremism, and we must commit the “decisive force” that Gen. McChrystal tells us carries the least risk of failure.

We believe that the short-term political reaction from Congress to any increase in troop numbers, no matter how small or large, will be essentially the same. The key question is whether the increase is substantial enough to have a decisive effect on the course of the war within the next 12 to 18 months. If we are to send more of our brave men and women in uniform into harm’s way, we should do so in a way that carries the greatest probability of success.

The danger of a middle-ground approach is especially acute with Obama, who has made an art form out of setting up extreme alternatives (often straw men on both sides) and rushing to claim the “reasonable” center. But here the center may not be reasonable at all.

The senators urge the president to give an address and call Gen. McChrystal “back to Washington to testify before Congress about his new strategy and the resources it will require.” That’s what President George W. Bush did when he summoned Gen. David Petraeus to support the surge—and undermine the hapless and uninformed senators (including the junior senators from New York and Illinois) who really didn’t want to give victory a chance. Once again we are faced with a question: Do we have the will to win?

The trio of senators conclude: “At last, we have the right strategy and the civilian and military leaders on the ground in Afghanistan to carry it out. This is a must-win war. And now is the time to commit the decisive military force necessary to prevail.” We’ll see whether Obama does that or takes the middle road, the path of least resistance, which  asks that we risk the loss of more lives and treasure without maximizing chances for a positive outcome.

Read Less




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